Poor Man’s hydroponics system

Have you ever tried to enter the world of hydroponics but never did it because you thought that it would be very expensive?


Now you don’t have an excuse! I’ve prepared a howto using (almost) the cheapest parts that I could get. This was not meant to grow large plants but small ones will do just fine. In my case I intend  to grow chilli peppers so this kit is great!

And this is what you need:

  • Small flower box including the water plate. It is important that the water plate fits perfectly on top of the flower box (just like a lid).
  • Some plastic cups
  • Air pump
  • Plastic tubing
  • Air Stone diffuser
  • Tools ( Electric driller, hole saw, duct tape, sharp knife, etc)
  • Perlite & Vermiculite (you can use rock wool or any other substrate)

Try to buy a hole saw with the same diameter as the plastic cups that you are going to use (or vice versa). This will make things easier, trust me!


All of this stuff cost me about 16 euros excluding tools. I would say that 16 euros for a complete hydroponics system ( flower box + water plate= 5€, plastic tubing=1€,  air stone=2€, perlite and vermiculite=2€, air pump=5€, plastic cups=1€) is a good price, don’t you think?

I could even make it cheaper by using a plastic bucket but I think that things should also look pretty 😛

The assembly is easy:

1. Take the water plate and put the plastic cups on top of it. Try to rearrange them to optimize the space. In my case I think that 9 plastic cups should be the maximum quantity to be supported.

2. Get a ruler and some duct tape and divide the water plate in rows and columns. I used the duct tape to draw a line to split the water plate in two parts. Then, I divided the two parts in 4 columns each, marked the center of each column and started to drill using the hole saw. Word of advice: To use too much force when drilling because that can make the water plate shatter. Take your time drilling…


3. Clear all the parts. Remove all the duct tape and rinse parts in water. If you feel that you have some sharp edges you can use some sand paper or a sharp knife to smooth things up.  Make a small hole (5mm is enough) to pass the air hose to the inside. This hole should be done near a corner so it doesn’t bother any plant.  And now you’re ready to test the fittings! Place each cup in a hole and check that it fits without a problem. We are almost done!

Water cups already in place.

4. Get a small piece of wire and heat it up. You can use a butane lighter, an oven, etc. Just make sure that it is enough to melt plastic. Grab a plastic cup and use the wire to do a few holes on the sides and bottom. You should keep the upper part of the plastic cup intact. After this you can fill it up with your favorite substrate. I used a 50/50 solution of perlite/vermiculite but fill free to use other things. I like perlite because it lets air pass through easily and vermiculite retains water pretty well.

Plastic cup full of perlite/vermiculite and ready to be used!

5. Fill the flower box up to 2/3 of its height. In the end you should have half of the plastic cups under water. More than that and the cup will get completely soaked. Pass the air hose throught the previously made hole and install the air stone in the end of it. The other end of the hose should be connected to the air pump. Turn it on to see it releasing air bubbles.  Now all you have to do is plant your favorite seeds and wait!

There you go! Now you have your own hydroponics system ready to be used! Enjoy!


  1. Hydroponics on a shoe string budget, a good idea none the less. I have seen an Hydroponics system built with a few pieces of household guttering and a small fish tank as a reservoir, it turned out to be a good little system and I have seen professional companies selling a beefed up version of it many years later. Although Hydroponics sounds really complicated and super expensive this blog proves that its not actually the case, growing with Hydroponics can be very cheap and very simple, which I suppose that this is the wonderful thing about it.

    1. Hi Mike,

      I’m still trying to find my way into the hydroponics world and I’m still learning new things every day 😛
      I was “forced” into this world because I’ve been trying to grow chili peppers for almost two years without any success and I thought that the problem could be related to the temperature of the roots ( I think that outside temperatures during the Winter/Spring can be harsh to these kind of plants) so I decided to try hydroponics system but first, try it without risking too much money in a professional system without having the confirmation that it would actually work!

      All I can say is that it DID work very well… at least in the beginning. After a few weeks I started to have curved leaves some black spots started to appear and after a while some of the leaves dropped. This couldn’t be an overfertilization problem because I was using the very same nutrient concentration since the beginning. I suspect that this may be related to algae because everytime I do a flush of the system, all the plants start to recover and I can see them growing for a week and then the same thing happens again.

      I can see that you have a website related to hydroponics. I’m going to check it out … and maybe find the solution to my problem 🙂

  2. Hi Admin

    I think your problem could well be down to over feeding, more so if your plants are starting to pick up after a flush. Having said that it could also be oxygen content of the medium.
    I would always recommend that anyone who grows with hydroponics should invest in a CF meter or truncheon to measure the exact level of nutrients before you feed them and a PH meter too. Without these you are pretty much blind as the instructions on the bottles are seldom accurate. With these you can get your nutrient solution exactly as the plant needs it and you can adjust it as the plants progress.

    Some plants prefer the flood and drain hydroponics as they don’t like roots to be constantly soaked, maybe your Chillies would prefer this better than a constant flow system like NFT, I have no experience of growing Chillies so sorry but I cant add any more to this.

    Another plus from using hydroponics is that if you do have a nutrient problem you can just pump it out and start again with fresh nutes, not something easily done in soil. Check out enzyme additives such Nitrazyme as these will give your plant the enzymes they need. I will be doing a post shortly on our hydro website all about additives and enzymes so keep an eye out for it….Mike

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.